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  • Soon Kai Hong

Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Pro) First Impressions: This Is Now Actually Pro

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

We're all familiar with Apple. We also all know that if Apple does something "courageous", the entire industry would follow suit. Back when Apple redesigned the MacBook Pro and removed all the usual ports, we surely complained. But yet, we all took it in stride and stuck with it. Other brands even started going down the same trend.

But that all changes this generation. Apple has finally brought their latest MacBook Pro back up to be deserving of its actual Pro moniker. The MacBook Pro is now actually, Pro again.

Now we've only had the MacBook Pro in our hands for a couple of days and what we received from Apple is basically the baseline 14-inch model. That means we have the M1 Pro with the 8-core CPU and 14-core GPU, along with 16GB of Unified Memory and 512GB of SSD storage. Surprisingly, however, instead of the standard 67W USB-C power adapter that it was supposed to come with, we got the slightly upgraded 96W instead. Pretty neat.

Right away, we see an old friend that we've missed all these years. MagSafe 3. We shed a tear.

MagSafe 3 is exactly how we remember MagSafe to be; it gives you that extra layer of security and you know that it has your back when you might inadvertently yank on the charging cable. It just works.

But we now talk about the MacBook Pro itself and the first thing you'll probably notice is that it is chunkier and is of a slightly more square-ish design, kind of like the iPhone 13 series. This is a stark difference from what Apple has been pursuing with the MacBook Pro lineup for the past few years, where thinness and elegance are valued over actual performance. This time, it's the other way around, as it should be. You can immediately tell that this is a laptop meant for professionals. This is Pro.

Of course, it goes without saying that the build quality is immaculate, as to be expected from Apple. It looks good and feels good. It does come in slightly heavier at about 1.6kg compared to the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) at 1.4kg. A slight increase for sure, but nothing too outrageous.

The one thing that Apple has always perfected is the balance and tension of the hinge. Want to lift up the display with one finger? No issues at all. It just feels right. And this is where you're then greeted with the gorgeous new display that is such a huge upgrade compared to the previous generation. However, let's first address the elephant in the room. That notch.

Honestly speaking, it is of no issue at all. With how MacOS works and with how most content is out there, the notch really doesn't get in the way. It's basically always in line with the taskbar up top, which usually stays there 99% of the time for most users. This means in effect, you just don't really notice it and even if you do, it's not in the way of your content.

It is a questionable design decision, no doubt about it. Other companies have also managed to include a webcam in as thin a bezel as this new MacBook Pro. But Apple clearly chose to go with quality here and it does show. The new webcam is now finally 1080p, touting an even larger image sensor and a lens with a wider aperture.

Our only gripe is that there isn't Face ID support. A shame really, considering that there already is a notch, so why not add Face ID? It would've been practical and far more justifiable to create a notched display compared to just having an improved camera. Well, perhaps next time.

Let's get back to talking about that display.

It's a 14.2-inch display with a resolution of 3,024 x 1,964 in a 16:10 aspect ratio. That makes for just under six million pixels in total at 254ppi. The resolution is fantastic and everything is nice and sharp. Browsing and reading was certainly quite the joy. But what's more important is the tech that goes into that display.

Liquid Retina XDR.

Unlike most other laptops which feature a standard IPS display, the one in this MacBook Pro uses mini-LEDs, all 10,000 of them. This allows a display to achieve a much higher contrast ratio compared to standard IPS or VA and places it well right beside OLED. We're talking about a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. For context, a standard IPS display would usually boast a contrast ratio of 1,000:1.

That's quite the difference, don't you agree?

Not only that, but the display also supposedly can go up to 1,000 nits of sustained brightness and up to 1,600 nits in peak brightness along with support for 10-bit colour. This means that this display can really give you a proper HDR experience and even if not, SDR is still gonna look that much better.

The best part about the new display, however, is ProMotion. If you're familiar with the iPad Pro or more recently, the iPhone 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max, this works exactly the same.

It's kind of weird, to be honest. 120Hz on a MacBook...? Think about that.

But it's downright great. Simple things such as the movement of your mouse cursor to the opening and closing of applications and windows, everything is just so much smoother now. To that end, if you were to game on your MacBook Pro, which you can actually do now, you're getting that full 120 frames per second experience.

To sum up the display, it's great, the best display in a MacBook Pro yet.

We then move on to the keyboard and the trackpad and the first thing you'll notice is the absence of the Touch Bar. We're eternally grateful. As awesome as it promised to be, it simply didn't perform up to the task. More often than not, the Touch Bar was more of a hindrance to your workflow rather than empowering it.

So now you get a simple and standard row of function keys. Awesome.

The keys themselves feel fine, and they utilise the same traditional scissors-style switches as the previous generation with good tactile feedback and good enough key travel. Combined with Touch ID on the top right corner which also acts as the power button, it's a great keyboard overall. The one thing we did notice was the lack of any form of backlight adjustment shortcuts for the keyboard on the keyboard itself. A little peculiar.

As for the trackpad, this needs no introduction. It performs as great as before and is probably still the best trackpad on a laptop in the world. Some Windows-based laptops are coming close, no doubt, but this is still retaining its throne for a little while longer.

Talking about speakers, it's great, slightly better compared to the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) and the MacBook Air (M1). They sound clean and crisp, and they do get pretty loud. Definitely better than most Windows-based laptops out there, especially for this form factor.

And finally, we come to ports and this is where we literally shed another tear. MagSafe 3 is here, as mentioned, but you now also get three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, an SD Card Reader and your trusty 3.5mm headphone jack that also received a slight amp bump.

Finally, some actual ports. The SD Card Reader and HDMI are probably the best two things to make a comeback. Photographers, videographers, anyone in the creative industry... Rejoice!

On that note, battery life is also pretty neat. Apple does claim up to 17 hours of battery life, though we managed to get a number closer to around 10 hours with actual real-world usage. It's not the best by far, but not shabby either.

But we now come to the heart of the new MacBook Pro, that M1 Pro chip. It's what makes the Pro, Pro. We've yet to put it through its full paces but our initial impression is that it's great. This is unlike anything out there in the market and Intel, AMD and NVIDIA ought to be on their toes.

For context, the Cinebench R23 scores are able to keep up with the likes of power-hungry Intel Core i7s or Core i9s out there, and it doesn't even fall that far behind something like the Ryzen 9 5900HX. Though to be noted, the performance difference isn't as staggering when using third-party apps such as Adobe or DaVinci Resolve. Performance in native Apple software such as Final Cut Pro is also where you're reaping the most benefits out from that Apple silicon.

Even so, it's amazing. Even more so when you consider the fact that the performance is basically unchanged whether you're on battery or plugged in. On top of that, the fans barely spun up even under load.

Again, we'll put it through more rounds of testings and we'll consolidate all of that in our full review, especially with regards to ProRes, gaming and whatnot. But in the meantime, just know that the M1 Pro is quite an impressive chip.

So that's it, the new MacBook Pro 14-inch (M1 Pro) at a glance. Pro is now actually Pro, and it shows. The only thing you might want to carefully consider before picking one up, however, would be the price.

With higher performance under the hood, so does a higher price tag follow. What we have is basically the baseline MacBook Pro 14-inch and that's where the price starts from. S$2,999.

A fair amount of cash and not something most of us can drop without a bat of an eyelid. So you have to think carefully. Do you really require the increase in performance from the M1 Pro or the M1 Max? Or do you simply need MacOS for the things you do?

If it's the former, just be prepared to empty your wallet. If it's the latter, you can perhaps save a little by going with the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) or the MacBook Air (M1).

But in any case, if you're willing to spend the cash, you will be rewarded. This is now a proper Pro machine.


Written by Soon Kai Hong

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